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Govt must fix discriminatory environmental tax law- Greenidge

Carl Greenidge

Despite Guyana being ordered by the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) to repay more than US$6 million to a Surinamese beverage manufacturer because an import duty is discriminatory, the opposition A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) on Sunday vowed not to approve an amendment unless the private sector was consulted and a proper  environmental tax was tabled.

“Caricom (Caribbean Community) never called upon them (Guyana government) to impose an environmental tax that is one of this type. 

Caricom opposed Guyana’s imposition of a tax that was discriminatory. That’s what the government has to fix. It has nothing to do with the opposition. We have no intention of changing that position,” APNU Shadow Finance Minister, Carl Greenidge told Demerara Waves Online News.

The CCJ on Thursday, May 8 ruled that Rudisa Beverages and Juices NV, the Surinamese beverage producer, and co-claimant, Caribbean International Distributors Inc (CIDI), which imports the beverages into Guyana, must be repaid a total of US$6,047,244.47 together with such further tax paid from October 25,2013 to the date of judgment. The Court required that if CIDI did not notify the Court that Guyana had complied with the orders of the Court by October 30,2014, then Guyana should file with the Court on or before November 15, 2014 a report on its compliance with those orders.

He argued that the styled environmental tax was really an import duty that was burdening Guyanese consumers and the funds were not being used for its stated purpose.

He blamed the Guyana government for failing to enact a proper law at a time when the 65-seat House was not being controlled by the opposition.

The Former Finance Minister under the Peoples National Congress (PNC) administration until 1992 said an environmental tax should discriminate based on the biodegradability of products.  He explained that biodegradable imports should attract a minimal or zero tax compared to a “high or nearly prohibitive” tax on those that are non-biodegradable for a very long time. He added that the tax should be accompanied by measures to push households to recycle certain items rather than dump in waterways or at landfills.

He accused the administration of breaking a promise to consult with the private sector, which should have hired Trade Expert, Dr. Patrick Antoine to craft a number of proposals on how the environmental tax regime should work.

The Guyana government, he said, pushed through with its amendment in an apparent effort to embarrass the opposition across the Caribbean.

The CCJ says the tax violates Caricom’s Treaty of Chaguaramas, a position that Guyana has long acknowledged to Caricom’s trade ministers but noted that the opposition had not lent its support for an amendment to the customs law.

The Court, which interprets trade rules for Caricom, says the State is indivisible and could not take account of the failure of the Guyana government’s inability to get the law amended.

APNU Chairman and Opposition Leader, David Granger last Friday (May 9,2014) told Demerara Waves Online News that his parliamentary coalition was willing to support an amendment to the law. “I would support any move to amend the legislation because the Caribbean as a whole is an important zone for trade for Guyana and the CSME (Caricom Single Market and Economy) and all of its conventions need to be enforced, need to be adhered to, he said.

Granger added that Guyana would benefit in the long term and so the country would not benefit by contravening the provisions of the CSME.